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Theory of knowledge: Sustainability

This week the topic of a sustainable future was opened up to all IB first year students and debated in their Theory of Knowledge lessons. The group debated the issue and then we spent some time looking at different approaches to sustainability including Kantian approach that may suggest that it is the categorical imperative of individuals to act responsibly and in a sustainable way, and a wider perspective where responsibility falls on governments and corporations.

On this last point we looked at examples where some companies had used sustainability to their advantage and we considered the growing trend among some corporations to consider Environmental, Social and Global issues (ESG’s) and to have a ‘sustainability plan’ because they saw the importance and potential profitability of this approach.

Students were then asked to write a min essay on the subject and I have looked through nearly 50 essays of fantastic quality. What was clear from reading them was that the future is in good hands in terms of the level of understanding but also the level of disagreement over the potential solutions to the problem of sustainability.

It was a very difficult decision but I chose Barbara Sinz from Austria.

How do we create a more sustainable society?

Almost everybody agrees that we have to move towards a more sustainable society to decrease the extent of climate change, avoid energy shortages and more natural catastrophes. The way in which this is to be achieved, however, is strongly disagreed on.

One approach to this issue is that everybody should do a little part, such as recycling or switching to energy-saving LED lamps and that this would ultimately be enough to make our society more sustainable. Clearly it is right that we take some personal responsibility and that reliance on the state or larger bodies like the UN is selfish and morally lazy and while these small changes to our daily lifestyle are of course important and would, added up, probably make a significant difference, I don’t believe that they are enough.

If we want to create a more sustainable society, the big companies using a lot of oil and producing a lot of pollution, need to change their ways as well and that all of these things together are the only way in which we can truly make a big difference. These changes, such as installing solar panels or switching production methods altogether, might of course mean a substantial one-off investment for these companies, which is why many companies have not already done so. However, there are many examples out there right now that show that a more sustainable approach can eventually result in a profit.

Companies making an effort to be more sustainable could therefore not only be good for the environment, but also the companies themselves and supporting firms that have already done so, could inspire more to follow in their ways, eventually transforming society into seeing sustainability as the norm.

Furthermore, we are talking about the future and companies that rely on the same old methods of production or use of the same business model risk falling behind with the times and finding their model unprofitable. Oil prices are a prime example of this. Over the last few years the price of oil has fallen through the floor and many believe it will not rise to anywhere near its previous price. In response some companies are now investing more in renewables.

In conclusion, small changes to our daily life in combination with big businesses making an effort to be more environmentally friendly is, in my opinion, the best way in which we can and should create a more sustainable society.


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